Greek philosopher Heraclitus penned a now famous phrase, “Change is the only constant in life, ” and well, it seems that the Cricket World Cup (CWC) formats took this quote a little too seriously.
Group stage, round-robin, Super Sixes, Super Eights, knockouts—you name it, the format has been experimented with.
History Repeats Itself
From an 8-team event (1975, 1979), the CWC gradually grew to nine teams (1992), then 12 (1996, 1999), 14-teams (2003), and finally reached its inflection point with 16 teams in the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
The 2007 iteration was poorly received for various reasons, but one of the fallouts was halting the gradual expansion of Associate nations in World Cups. With genuine upsets from Ireland & Bangladesh against Pakistan, India, and later South Africa, the ICC lost a major chunk of funding.
2011 & 2015 World Cups went back to the ‘90s formats with an elongated 14-team event, while the 10-team 2019 & 2023 events have revived the 1992 round-robin structure, providing as much game time (and hence, financial stability) for the big teams.
If It Is Broke, Fix It
The change of management has done wonders for the ICC—reducing the power of the Big 3, promoting the idea of cricket in the Olympics, and expanding the game with coordinated World Cups with a blockbuster World Cup schedule for the next decade:
- Men’s ODI World Cup & Women’s ODI Champions Trophy (2023, 2027, 2031)
- Women’s ODI World Cup & Men’s Champions Trophy (2025, 2029)
- Women’s & Men’s T20I World Cups (2024, 2026, 2028, 2030)
- World Test Championship Final (2023, 2025, 2027, 2029, 2031)
There is at least one major tournament for both men & women every year with the odd years also including the World Test Championship final.
Expansion Is the Will of the Nature
If you thought that was good news, hear this out.
The 54-match ODI World Cup is expanded to a 14-team affair (throwback to 2003) – 2 groups of 7, followed by Super Sixes, and finally the semi-finals & the finals.
The 55-match T20I World Cups will well and truly be a ‘world cup’—20 team tournament, 4 groups of 5, a Super Eight Stage, followed by semi-finals & finals. The T20I World Cup will guarantee at least 4 games for eight non-Test playing nations. Massive improvement.
With expanded World Cups, this provides incentive & motivation for Associate players to continue the game. Several Associate cricketers have taken premature retirements for opportunities elsewhere. This will add the fuel to keep them going.
Basketball has caught up with the FIFA benchmark of world cups with a 32-team event, while field hockey & rugby are 16-team affairs. It is time that cricket expand and catch up to the will of nature.
Revisiting the Glory Days
Remember Dwayne Leverlock’s one-handed stunner? Or Shapoor Zadran’s emotional celebration?
This is what World Cups are for—discovering new talents, cherishing the moments, providing a platform for smaller teams to grow, and promoting competition, not diminishing it.
The Associate Nations have provided numerous moments of glory—World Cup’s fastest century at the hand of Kevin O’Brien to hand England a defeat in Bangalore, Stuart Broad’s missed run-out/overthrow giving way for a Netherlands victory, Zimbabwe’s defeat to world-beaters Australia in 2007, and Bangladesh’s rise via CWC victories against Pakistan (1999), India, South Africa (2007), and England (2011, 2015).
Gruesome Qualifier Tournaments Out of the Window
With the expanded World Cup formats, one thing is for certain. The added salt to injury, also known as the Qualifiers, will have a lesser impact.
After Afghanistan & Ireland attained Test Status and became Full Members, the 2019 & 2023 formats were even more difficult to digest. It is a cricket sin for Full Members to not be a part of the World Cup. Zimbabwe & Ireland did not make it to the 2019 WC, and it is likely that even someone like Sri Lanka can lose out on a spot in the next world cup.
Case & point is the 2018 CWC Qualifier, one of the more closely fought tournaments in recent times. Scotland was in sight of qualifying at the expense of the West Indies or Afghanistan, when rain arrived and Scotland mathemagically lost by 5 runs due to the DL method. Zimbabwe also missed out on a qualification spot due a rained-out match.
An over or two should not determine fates for a World Cup qualification. Even worse was the T20 tournaments. After a 51-match qualification tournament for Associates, teams would enter a 3-match ‘pre-qualification’ stage in the actual world cup itself! Ludicrous.
In 2016, Bangladesh & Afghanistan proceeded to the next round while Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Oman, & Ireland crashed out.
Double disqualification, I like to call it. Survivor of the
fittest ones that have the most money.
Warning: Potential Conflicts & T10 Format Ahead
Not everything will be fixed by expanding the Word Cup, however. Last month, the ICC backed T10 Cricket in Olympics. I am in full support of cricket in the Olympics albeit T20.
However, with a T20 World Cup now scheduled every two years, including 2028 & 2032, T20 cricket in the Los Angeles & Brisbane Summer Olympics look like a distant dream. Creating an international T10 format might be the only feasible choice, further crowding the international and the T10/T20 leagues calendar.
In any case, I will definitely take more context in cricket calendar, & support for the Associate & lower-ranked nations in exchange of embracing the T10 format.
It is the Little Moments That Matter
Did we really need a World Cup to prove that in the ‘80s the West Indians were a class apart or the Australians were the best in the world in the 2000s?
No, but a World Cup or Olympics is much more than that. So, why have predictable world cup formats?
Surprises & uncertainty, thrills & chills, unity in a divided world, and sportsmanship & hope amidst despair—that is what sport is all about.
It is about time cricket puts the world back in its so-called world cup.
Copyright: Nitesh Mathur, 6/2/2021, firstname.lastname@example.org